On America’s Independence Day, it is natural to think about freedom. To an American, freedom means the absence of constraints, and the ability to make choices. In contrast, freedom in scripture is the freedom to express love, in spite of outward circumstances. In fact, sometimes that love is expressed by giving up freedom.
Exodus 21:5-6 is an interesting passage about freedom and slavery. “But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.” The theoretical slave in this passage is thinking more about his master’s good than his own freedom. He has grown to love his master, and to adopt his ways. Therefore, he chooses to remain with his master until he dies. This slave, who could have been free, finds greater freedom in lifetime servitude to one he loves. When he became a slave, he crossed the threshold into his master’s household. Now, he was unwilling to abandon the threshold covenant he had come to cherish. So, it is at the threshold of the door that he confirms this covenant for life.
Shaul called himself a bondservant of Messiah Yeshua. Shaul was a trained scholar. He enjoyed independence of movement, and could live as he wanted. Yet, he called himself a slave to Yeshua. Why? His first words to the Romans were, “From Shaul, a slave of Messiah Yeshua, an emissary because I was called and set apart for the Good News of God.” Shaul is a slave because he is called and set apart, and not because he lost his freedom. In a sense, he now enjoys the greatest freedom of all. He is a person who feels he has no property in himself, and that God is his all and in all.
These two types of individuals voluntarily give up their freedom for a higher calling. In both of cases, we see the pattern of a person renouncing liberty in exchange for service to a worthy master. Each one is actually an symbol of inheritance from their master’s household because even a bondservant can inherit everything. The paradox is that while they are giving up freedom, they are gaining an inheritance. For example, Eliezer was both Abram’s servant and his prospective heir. Genesis 15:2 says, “But Abram said, ‘Adonai YHWH, what will you give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?’ ” Of course, YHWH did have other plans and provided an heir from Abram’s loins.
Shaul gave up his freedom, just like the slave of Exodus 21:5, knowing that his ultimate happiness lay in service to Yeshua, his Master. In effect, Shaul loved his Messiah so much that he crossed the threshold. Figuratively, Yeshua pierced Shaul’s earlobe with an awl, permanently identifying him with His threshold and the doorpost of His house.
From this pattern, it is possible to see that a traditional search for freedom can be in vain. For biblical slaves, service to another brought the greatest happiness and satisfaction. It is good to search our hearts to determine exactly what we are seeking when we are looking for freedom.